• Email
  • Single Page
  • Print

The Panthers at Yale

An even clearer sign of the new alignment was apparent at the college faculty meeting called by Kingman Brewster on Thursday, April 23, to consider the students’ vote for a moratorium. Brewster handled this with the pluck and shrewdness with which he had, in previous years, supported the creation of a strong Afro-American studies program; defended the rights of William Sloane Coffin; limited credits available from ROTC training programs; and encouraged the placement of students on key Yale policy committees. Brewster knew the way the wind was blowing and tacked with it, preserving his position by closing ranks with students and blacks and minimizing dissent against the administration.

Foregoing the usual procedure, Brewster took the unprecedented step of yielding the floor to the black faculty without so much as one opening remark. Professor Roy Bryce-Laporte, the head of the African Studies program, read a resolution drawn up by the black faculty which supported the students’ vote for a moratorium and defined the university’s responsibility to New Haven’s black community. There was a discussion of an hour or so. Then Brewster took another extremely unconventional step by calling for the question to be moved, instead of waiting for a member of the faculty to call it. The black faculty’s resolution—with only one modification of substance—was adopted by a voice vote whose margin is estimated as three-to-one by some observers, six-to-one by others. The only important rephrasing of the black faculty’s original resolution occurred in the following sentence where the original text is in brackets: “We support, and we call on other members of the Yale faculty to support, the issuance of a directive to all persons affected, stating that the normal [functions] expectations of the university be [surrended] modified.”

Other demands—left intact—urged support for a national conference of black organizations to be held at Yale to discuss the “issues of political and social repression”; proposed the establishment of a commission with strong black representation which would have a veto on any of Yale’s land expansion programs; and asked for the establishment of a fund to deal with any financial problems that might arise from the student moratorium. “It was an eerie meeting,” a young faculty member recalls. “The conservatives were there with numerous resolutions, and they could have spoken up, but they never did. It was partly out of respect and loyalty to Brewster, partly because of the old problem of white guilt….”

The dissident faculty spoke later. Professor Jager of the Philosophy Department called the meeting a “Munich” because of its excessive haste. Much of the dissident faculty—some of them concerned with preserving the role of the university as a place of learning where questions of social action would not excessively intrude, others alarmed by the potential destructiveness of the May First visitors—wanted Brewster to close up Yale in the face of the May showing concern. Early in the week there was a new sense of urgency. It was rumored that the Panther Defense Committee had appointed a totally inexperienced eighteen-year-old girl, a freshman at Yale, to be head marshal for the rally. A Safety Committee of seven Yale students and seven faculty members was hastily formed to monitor the work of marshals and handle other logistical problems. (Faculty on the Safety Committee included David Barber, Peter Brooks, William Sloane Coffin, John Hersey, and Kenneth Keniston. Along with Ken Mills, Kai Erikson, Robert Jay Lifton, and two Law School professors—Elias Clark and Abraham Goldstein—they were the faculty members who would do the most to keep the university cool.)

Meanwhile, a continuous bull session proliferated in the common rooms and sunny quadrangles of the university. Along with innumerable talks on the issues of the Panther Nine’s trial, there were forums on the Law of Conspiracy, on the Psychology of Racism, on Language and Revolution, on Colonization and Race in Plantation America; seminars on the Psychodynamics of Racism and Resistance; teach-ins on Urban Community Housing and on Self-Defense for women. There were also teach-outs; some 300 Yalies cut their hair and shaved Clean for Gene style in order to canvass the New Haven community and discuss the issues of the Panther Nine’s trial.

What was happening? The students and teachers at Yale were touchy about the words one used. It was not a “strike” or a “shutdown”—even “moratorium,” a slightly more acceptable word, was not adequate. Kai Erikson of the Sociology Department favored the word “redirection.” Kenneth Keniston stressed that “strike” was an early twentieth-century term totally inadequate for a situation where students were learning at such a furious pace: “We’re trapped in early twentieth-century language,” he said, “to describe a situation totally different from anything that’s happened before on a campus.” Even the word “liberated,” which in other university crises had signified the occupying of buildings, was used at Yale to designate those colleges which voted to open their rooms and dining halls to the May Day visitors. (The only “unliberated” college remained Berkeley, whose master, the economist Robert Triffin, was showing less ready hospitality than were the other masters.)

At a press conference held two days before May Day at the Panther Defense Committee headquarters, it was already evident that the crucial responsibility for maintaining calm rested on the Panthers’ shoulders, and that they were calling for nonviolence as clearly as their language allowed them to. The Defense Committee is on Chapel Street, incongruously set into the block that parades New Haven’s most fastidious Ivy League sartorial goods. Anne Froines and Tom Dustou, chief coordinators of the Panther Defense Committee and of the May Day rally, and Big Man, the Panthers’ Deputy Minister of Information and editor of the Panther magazine, sat on three narrow chairs under harsh overhead bulbs. Big Man—some six feet and two hundred and fifty pounds—has a broad and thoughtful face. Aside from the expected litanies—“a pig is a pig is a pig, no matter what shape, size, or color”—he made a clear plea for nonviolence on May first. “We don’t want anarchism; we don’t want rampaging through the streets. We want organizing.” He gave unexpected praise to Yale students for “cutting their hair and going out to get support from the middle class.” He was cool and witty during the question period.

Is there any concern on your part that any large organization or group coming into town would constitute a threat?”

Just the National Guard.”

What is your position on Kingman Brewster?”

I don’t know anything about the man.”

Anne Froines, wife of John Froines of the Conspiracy Seven, is delicate and pallid-skinned, with the pinched air of a conscientious nun.

Mrs. Froines, are you satisfied with Yale’s reaction so far?”

I won’t be satisfied until the university is run by the students and the Panthers are free…. The struggle at Yale is in part inspired by a realization of what this trial is about…. We are interested in seeing the Yale student struggle taking place and continuing.” Anne Froines’s only relationship to Yale is that John Froines once took a doctorate in chemistry from the university. The white radicals, throughout the week, stressed struggle, while the Panthers stressed calm. Tom Dustou, who had earlier wanted guns for the Green, did not talk; he is bearded, with glazed and humorless eyes. He is a former member of the Patriot Party, a lower middle-class white radical group who copy their tactics and rhetoric from the Panthers, and whose slogan is “Stop Thinking.” They relentlessly purge their members for “too much ego” and “too much subjectivity.” (“I miss the old SDS,” a professor said to me during the May Day crisis. “They were so predictable, dealing with them was like shadow boxing. These new groups are so mysterious….”)

Perhaps it is symbolic of the new political alignments on campuses that Yale’s crisis this spring was one of the few in five years in which SDS has played no official role. SDS leader (PL faction) Carl Zenger, who had been Yale’s first visible radical in the late 1960s, had been called a pig by the Panthers for not putting the problems of the black community uppermost, and was lying low through the April days. Every afternoon at Beinecke Plaza, a strike rally was held around the ten-foot-high Oldenburg lipstick sculpture, which outlines itself incongruously against the World War I battle names engraved on the Doric pediment of Wolsey Hall: “Thierry, Somme, Argenteuil, Marne.”

We’re going to have a little guided tour of the university,” an SDSer yells into the microphone, “first we’re going to tour the Social Science site, where they’re planning to breed some more capitalist managers, then we’re going to tour the place where they want to rip up some more buildings to build an art gallery…. We’re going to tour the university down!” A few “right on’s,” much shrugging of shoulders. Shortly before at the Beinecke rally, when a Black Student Alliance member had pleaded for nonviolence, there had been a wild ovation. The number of Yale students who wanted to bring the university down was clearly small, and quite powerless. The threat, this time, came from the possible violence of the outsider, from the left’s supposedly lunatic fringe, which was thought to be gathering ominously in New York and Boston. And it was the fear of this mutual enemy which held the university together.

It was ironic that the man most credited by students for keeping the college cool should be Yale’s most radical faculty member. Associate Professor Ken Mills of the Philosophy Department, born in Trinidad, is a tall, lithe, Oxford-educated scholar with an Afro hairdo who looks as if he might be the Panthers’ Minister of Fine Arts. He is described by his friends as “a radical looking for profound historical change, not for protest or ego trips.” He is totally respected by the Panthers, and is strongly opposed to building seizures and similar tactics because they are “played out politics,” leading, as they did at Harvard and Columbia, to setback after the bust. And he has taught much to radical students about the necessity of making well-timed, strategic alliances with liberals.

The phrase ‘to hell with liberals’ is foolish,” he told me in his blend of Oxford British and West Indian. “People spout Mao Tse-tung as a head trip. If you start looking at Mao’s categories of primary contradictions, secondary contradictions, and so on, you have to ask yourself a serious question if you’re on the left: is your main enemy the liberal or the conservative forces? The radicals have always this fear of cooption, but you cannot get coopted if you know what you’re all about. The black faculty did not get coopted at the faculty meeting. They knew what they went in for and by and large they got it. For several reasons the president of the University joined them, but this is not because he coopted their efforts, but because of his own set of strategic plans.”

  • Email
  • Single Page
  • Print